Who is the Vocational Expert and What do They Do?

By Kirsten E. Wold

When you receive your Hearing Notice, you might well see a list of people that will be present at your hearing. Often, this will include the name of a Vocational Expert (often referred to as the “VE”). You might be wondering, what is a vocational expert and why do they need to be at my hearing?

A VE is a person who is at the hearing for a couple of different reasons. After you explain to the judge what jobs you have performed in the last 15 years, the VE will define them in terms of the exertional level (i.e. sedentary, light, medium, heavy). This often depends on how long you had to stand and walk throughout the day, as well as how much weight you had to lift and carry on the job.

Then, the Judge will ask the VE a series of hypothetical questions. Typically they will start out describing a person that is your age, has your education level, and your work history. Then they will start describing various physical and/or mental limitations that this hypothetical person has based on the medical evidence in your record. The VE then has to answer two questions: 1. Can the person just described do your past work? 2. If not, are there any other jobs in the economy that such a person could do with these limitations?

Typically the Judge will ask a variety of hypothetical questions in order to get different responses from the VE. Often, the VE’s responses will range from a person that has several different jobs available to them, to a person that could not work given all the limitations the Judge described. It is then up to the Judge to determine which of the limitations you most likely have, based on the evidence of record as well as your testimony that you give that day.

Do not be surprised if the VE lists jobs that you have never done before in your life. Remember, the purpose of a hearing is to not only prove that you can’t do your past work, but also that you can’t do ANY other job in the economy; even if you have no previous experience in it at all.

Your attorney will also have an opportunity to ask the VE their own variation on the hypothetical questions to add limitations the Judge may have left out. Make sure your attorney knows all of your functional limitations prior to going to the hearing so they can be well prepared to ask the proper questions.